The Worm That Roared

The most sophisticated virus of all time may be a front for a new kind of organized crime

During the week of Jan. 15, an innocuous-looking e-mail appeared in thousands of inboxes around the world. Its subject line read, "230 dead as storm batters Europe." The e-mail came with a file attached, bearing a plausible-sounding name like Full Story.exe or Read More.exe. Plenty of people clicked on it. After all, storms really were battering Europe at the time; that week high winds and rain had killed 14 in the U.K. alone. But all great cons have a grain of truth in them somewhere.

The file that arrived with the e-mail was, of course, a computer virus, immediately christened the...

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